Published On: Fri, Nov 6th, 2020

CNC machining: What is it and what does the future hold for CNC machining?

When it comes to mass production of machined plastic and metal parts, CNC machining is still the number one choice for manufacturers, despite the growing capabilities of 3D printing. So, what is CNC machining and what is its future?

What is CNC machining? 

Abbreviated from ‘computer numerical control’, CNC machining is the automated manufacturing of raw materials that can also be described as a form of ‘subtractive manufacturing’. It uses a variety of tools and methods to remove material to create an end product, prototype or mold tools. The process uses software and programmed equipment to control the precision of the cutting and the finish of a product. There are a number of types of CNC machining used to create precision parts and prototypes, and as such, it’s important to consider which one is best when optimising your design for CNC machining

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Types of CNC machining techniques 

The main methods of CNC machining are turning, milling, surface grinding and EDM. Let’s have a look at these in more detail: 


  • Milling 


The milling process occurs when a work object is held in a vice as a cutting tool rotates around it, forming the desired shape or component/part. A variety of different cutting tools can be used in milling, depending on the end result required. Mills are often used when creating fine precision shapes e.g. notches and keyways. 


  • Turning


Turning is executed on CNC machinery when an object is clamped to a rotating plate. When it spins around, a cutting tool moves linearly, quickly removing large amounts of material to form the required design. 

  • Surface grinding 

This is a method used to create a flat surface on metal. A workpiece is positioned on a table and moved back and forth towards a spinning abrasive disk (the grinder) to manipulate its shape. 


  • EDM 


Short for Electrical Discharge Machining, EDM is when a series of electrical discharges remove material from a workpiece object. It can also be referred to as ‘spark machining’ or ‘wire erosion’.


What are the benefits of CNC machining? 

Along with the versatility of CNC machining, there are several other benefits of this tried and tested manufacturing technology. Used in a wide range of sectors, including all kinds of manufacturing, aerospace, construction and dental, CNC machining provides the following advantages: 

  • Durability

CNC machines can operate 24 hours if required, only stopping for necessary maintenance. 


  • Accuracy 


CNC machines are accurate thanks to the automation of the machinery, helping to rule out human error. 


  • Cost reduction 


Because of the high speed CNC machinery is capable of, less labor is required, equating to overall reduced costs. 


  • Enhanced safety 


Safety is improved as there is less direct contact with sharp objects due to automation. 


  • High production volume 


CNC machines are capable of producing high volume production while still maintaining accuracy and quality.  

The future of CNC machining 

CNC machining has already earned its place at the table in rapid manufacturing for high precision products, and it seems there’s yet more to come. As technology continues to progress, with fewer traditional labor demands, costs will inevitably decrease, however, with a new wave of automation, machine learning and AI in manufacturing technologies like CNC machining, the employment market for tech jobs has the potential to open further. 

Along with changes in employment, it’s impossible not to mention the impact of 3D printing on the future of CNC machining. However, despite the clear benefits of ease of use, less equipment and swifter prototyping, 3D printing does not yet meet the viability for mass production, precision and superior finish that CNC machining does. 

Author: Paul Gordon

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